Brussels, 06 Jul 2004
A new report by Save British Science (SBS), looking at how UK universities can recruit and retain top class researchers in the face of global competition, has recommended that the government provide an extra 250 million GBP (370 million euro) to boost salaries in higher education.
The report, published on 5 July, is based on the recommendations of a symposium that brought together representatives from universities, government, charities and industry to discuss the issue.
While the report points out that the problem does not apply to all subjects in all institutions, UK universities are, it says, 'routinely experiencing difficulties in recruiting and retaining world class researchers in science and engineering.' It quotes the findings of a recent national survey in which 57 per cent of universities reported that they had left scientific posts unfilled because they could not find candidates of the appropriate calibre.
While those participating in the symposium all agreed that the global market in researchers is driven by a number of factors, they decided to focus on remuneration as the most pressing concern. '[I]t is clear that many attractive career options are available to the kind of first-class scientists who might otherwise become or remain academic researchers,' states the report, highlighting opportunities within industry or US universities as two obvious examples. '[A]verage salaries will need to rise [i]f the Higher Education sector is to remain competitive.'
The report points to statistical data that appear to support this argument, with studies showing that scientists working in the pharmaceutical industry are paid between 20 and 50 per cent more than their counterparts in universities. However, it identifies three so called crunch points where competition for talent is particularly strong - at the point of entry into academic research, for example as a postdoctoral researcher; the point at which a researcher has proved themselves; and the point when academics take on leadership roles, heading up important research groups or university departments.
At all three points, UK universities must be equipped to compete with industry and overseas institutions, and while the report accepts that not all researchers will command the highest salaries, it criticises the current system of remuneration whereby all individuals must fit in to the same rigid pay structure.
The solution proposed is a system with more variability, with new funds being used to address the current market imbalance: 'Where the market demands it, some individuals in some disciplines will earn substantially more than others,' the report predicts.
Based on calculations of the average salaries that top researchers can command and their projected career trajectories, the symposium participants propose that the current shortfall could be addressed with a government injection of around 250 million GBP (370 million euro). According to Professor Richard Joyner, Chair of SBS: 'Our report presents a reasonable proposal for scientists' pay, and costs it at 250 million GBP per year, which is less than 3 per cent of the government's current annual investment in scientific research and development.'
'With all the new infrastructure we are getting, British science has the potential to deliver substantial benefits for the British taxpayer, but unless we tackle the problems of recruiting and retaining the best researchers, we are in danger of not getting the maximum value out of the investment we have already made,' Professor Joyner concluded.
To read the report, please consult the following web address: